After stepping away from pop-punk catalysts The Anniversary in the early 00’s, Josh Berwanger took a long hiatus from the industry. He arrived at that point through a completely predictable sequence that most musicians take after the inital go turns sour: he played in an alt-country group The Only Children for a spell, then fell in with the education crowd in his hometown of Kansas, coaching high school girl’s basketball for 6 years. Understandable, once one gets a taste of positive contribution to society, it’s a sharp, nearly inescapable downward spiral.
However, Berwanger, like most artists, remained gripped with the persistent need to create something, and made music even as he continued in his pedestrian life. This is what is beautiful about his solo album “Stange Stains.” It’s the proof that art is a need. Berwanger didn’t have to make it, he was not forcing it out in between tour cycles, he wasn’t scrambling to record anything just to remain relevant in a fluid industry. Instead, he made something that satisfied his ears.
By no means was the making of this album a fast process; it didn’t have to be. “Strange Stains” is a collection of favorite tunes culled from the body of work Berwanger had built up over the years. Of the time period Berwanger says, “I was listening to a lot of Tyrannosaurus Rex at the time, and wanted to make something easy to listen to, that I would enjoy.” After a Kickstarter campaign, time in the studio, and attention from Milwaukee’s Good Land Records, “Strange Stains” was released October of 2013, two years after the idea for an album surfaced.
What Berwanger would enjoy, as it turns out, is folk-rock with a heavy metal backbone, with enough pop sensibility to send it down easier than an Orange Crush with a pixie stick chaser.
Clocking in at just a half an hour, many of the songs follow a straightforward pop-punk format, steamrolling over verse/chorus/verse in quick succession with a minimum amount of chord changes, completing an idea in under 3 minutes and hustling to the next track. The depth of this album is in its restraint; it takes only a few notes on a pedal steel or one step on the effects pedal to signify a well of country or hair metal influence. It has a concentrated teenaged energy channeled straight from the high school hallways that Berwanger, in a way, never left.
Evidently Berwanger is doing what he can to keep on the straight and narrow, hitting the road again as The Josh Berwanger Band, paralleling his Anniversary Days by playing well-crafted, genre-skirting music. June 3rd was the release of single “Oh Bis!” with a cover The Jags 1978 near-hit “Back of My Hand” on the b-side as an old-meets-new series via Too Much Rock. Listening to him sing in “I can never love you like he does-” in his distinct, near-breathy tone should be enough to send a chill up your spine to think that he was almost lost to the public school system.
For updates and tour information, check out http://berwangermusic.com/